Neil Diamond takes audience arm in arm

The Tennessean

by Tom Roland
Neil Diamond has elongated arms.

You wouldn't call them gangly - that would imply an awkwardness that doesn't suit the singer. And to call them oversized would be an overstatement.

But they're a little longer than average for his body size. It's a fact that was noticeable at his two-hour show last night at the Nashville Arena, noticeable because his arms are the main way he connects with his audience physically.

That moment during the climax of If You Know What I Mean when he stretched one arm to his side, as if pulling the crowd to him. That moment during the encore on Holly Holy when both arms spanned probably 6 1/2 feet side to side, in a sort of embrace. That moment at the end of Cherry, Cherry when he shot one arm skyward, reveling in the bond he had with the seated masses.

It was clear through his expressions and his demeanor that Diamond still loves his work. He seemed to enjoy being in front of the crowd, and as he reached out to that audience through his arms, his voice and his melody, they reached right back with repeated standing ovations and sing-alongs.

Of course, no one was really there to see Neil Diamond's arms - that's probably a safe assumption. They were there, presumably, for their appreciation of his melodic sensibilities, his occasional philosophical bent, and the warmness that he seems to share with the audience.

The best portions of Diamond's work - and the best portions of last night's show - remain the early, pre-Song Sung Blue era. Solitary Man, Sweet Caroline, and Cracklin' Rosie are hardly dramatic. There's a simplicity about them that makes them easy to latch onto. The words are, at times, insightful, without ever becoming preachy of overbearing. Diamond is, at his best, accessible.

He delivered those tunes with a familiar voice, though at age 57, that voice now wavers a bit. The raspy grit and rich reediness remain an unflappable part of his sonic lexicon. Still, there are times during sustained notes - most evident in Hello Again and a cover of Unchained Melody - that he descends into a warble that's quite unattractive.

Not that the audience cared. Diamond imbues the songs with such passion that it's not particularly difficult to overlook that flaw.

Unchained Melody was part of a four-song sections of standards that promoted The Movie Album. While the songs are classics, his performance of them was a mixed bag - some highly sensitive, some not quite appropriate for his voice.

But they were a fairly small obstacle among 30-plus songs in which Diamond effectively reached out through his arms - and through an impressive bag of songs that mellowed the psychedelic generation.


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